Luck and The Will of God

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Ask any Christian what they think about luck and you are likely to hear an answer like this, “We make our own luck.” But do we really? And what does the Bible say about luck? It says nothing actually. The word does not even appear in any translation that I have been able to find. I have found many instances of the word, chance, however. Here’s one: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them…” ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

What is luck if not a chance or random event? And if a chance event should be beneficial, would we not call that, “good luck” in the vernacular of today? If a chance event should befall some misfortune upon us, would we not call that, “bad luck?” And if God should be responsible for all things, sending the proverbial rain to fall on the righteous as well as the wicked, then we are faced with the hard reality that God either causes bad things to happen to good people, or else He passively allows it.

Here’s an example of what I would call, bad luck. You, a good person… mostly, are driving down the road, minding your own business and obeying all the rules of the road. Suddenly — BAM! A driver behind you, distracted by texting on his cell phone while driving, plows into your rear-end. You have just become collateral damage, a casualty of someone else’s bad choice. It was an event that God did not make happen, or maybe He did. We cannot know. But we do know that God did not prevent it from happening.

Here’s an example of what I would call, good luck. You, a typical male teenager, engage in your first sexual encounter, going “all the way,” unprotected, with a young lady who welcomed your advances, actually encouraged you. Weeks later, she informs you that she thinks she’s pregnant. You and she, scared out of your wits, commiserate with one another and postpone telling your parents. Then, a few days later, she tells you that she has miscarried. Did God intervene or was the miscarriage a random, natural event? We cannot know. But you are relieved and thank your proverbial “lucky stars.” Hopefully, you have learned your lesson.

Bible stories suggest that God’s will is manifest in three different ways: His intentional will, His circumstantial will, and His ultimate will. See Leslie D. Weatherford’s book, The Will of God.

God’s intentional will “for us,” according to Jeremiah 29:11, is that we should all prosper, that we should not be harmed, that we should have hope and a future. But why, why did He create us? The Bible makes this clear in Isaiah 43:7, God created us for His glory, God’s glory not ours. Therefore, both His “greater” intentional will and His ultimate will is simply to be glorified. Unfortunately, God’s intentional will for us sometimes has to be sacrificed due to chance events and, of course, our own poor choices. This is God’s circumstantial will. It involves Him passively allowing, rather than causing, something to happen. Chapter 1 of the book of Job, even though most biblical scholars consider Job to be a fictional or parabolic character, illustrates this in what God allowed Satan to do in the life of Job. It is also involved in the evil that God allowed Joseph’s brothers to do to Joseph in order to accomplish a greater good, a good not apparent to Joseph until years later (Genesis 50:20). So we have at least a partial answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people.

Does God ever intervene with the randomness of His creation or to circumvent the negative consequences of our poor choices? Sure He does. That is what we believe, and that is why we pray.

I have previously written about events in my life that I choose to call miracles. See A Tale of Two Miracles in The World According to Opa. In one of these two events I wrote about being Hepatitis-C positive and living  for years with the certain knowledge that I would one day start to display symptoms. I had anticipated having to undergo expensive therapies with uncomfortable side-effects in an attempt to thwart the inevitable, a protracted, painful death like the one my mother had had to endure. I prayed for God to take that cup away from my lips. Then, one day, God answered my prayer. Either that or I just go lucky. I became one of about 25 percent of Hepatitis-C infected individuals to spontaneously convert.

After the divorce from my first wife was final, I opened a letter from the local draft board. “Greetings,” it said… I was being ordered to report for an induction physical. I knew that I would pass the physical and, although I had anticipated that this would happen when filing for the divorce, I considered myself to be a most unlucky fellow. Timing was the problem; our country was in the midst of war in Southeast Asia. American casualties over there were mounting. The news every night was filled with frightening videos: helicopters delivering soldiers into the heat battle, bleeding bodies on stretchers being flown back to rear area aid stations, pictures of flag draped coffins being unloaded back stateside. So I anticipated my odds of surviving combat in the jungles to be only even, fair at best. Besides, I had the best job at that time that I had ever had. I was a TV cameraman for a local television station. I loved that job and I hated having to give it up. I had a new girlfriend too – a couple of them in fact — and a new car. Damn! But my induction into the Army turned out to be a long-term blessing, a blessing in disguise. Oh, I did have to experience combat in Vietnam – eventually.  But not before I had become a commissioned officer in the Army, not before I had learned to fly helicopters, not before I was trained to be an aircraft maintenance officer – a maintenance test pilot. So I dodged the worst of the war. My only year in Vietnam was a relatively quiet year. The worst year, 1968, the year of Tet, was over. During the two and a half years of training before my year in Vietnam, I met my current wife too – the mother of two of my three sons.

1967 and 1968 were the worst years for soldiers in Vietnam. Some of my flight instructors, Warrant Officer pilots who were serving state-side tours of duty between combat tours, prepared us as best they could for the horrors that we would soon face – horrors like red and blue streams of tracer bullets rising up to meet us when on short-final approaches to combat landing zones – horrors like the sound of bullets piercing the thin skins of our utility and gunship helicopters – horrors like watching others’ helicopters crashing and burning next to us – horrors like broken and bleeding bodies of soldiers being piled onto cargo floors behind us for evacuation, some of them still crying out in pain. After graduating from flight school and taking my turn over there, I’d have known a full share of these horrors. But I got lucky.

A week or so before graduation, some of us got amendments to the original orders assigning us to duty in Vietnam with helicopter flight school reroute. Some of us would go on to transition training in either Cobra gunships or in cargo helicopters like the big Chinook. Rarely, some of us would go to fixed-wing transition. Some of us, myself, and the future Best Man at my wedding, Marvin Adams, and another whose name I do not recall, were sent to Aviation Maintenance Officers’ Course in Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Marvin and I were there for twelve weeks while most of the rest of our flight class of commissioned officers was experiencing the worst weeks of the war. The officer who flew right seat with me in a Huey on our graduation formation fly-by flight, Johnny Benton, lasted only three weeks in Vietnam. He took a 50 caliber bullet to the head during one of his first in-country combat assault missions.  I read his name one morning in the Army Times obituaries among other class members’ names. Week after week more class members’ names were listed.

I did not know Johnny well during our time together in flight school. I got to know him much better after he died because I wrote to his parents. Their address was listed in the Army Times. I don’t know why I chose to write to them and not to others from my flight class, others that I had actually known better. But I did. I gave them my APO address so that they could write back to me should they want to. A few days after reporting to my unit in Vietnam, the Aviation Battery of the 101st Airborne Division’s Division Artillery, a half dozen letters from Johnny’s mother were delivered. Each contained a packet of KoolAide. Each week after that, like clockwork, I got another letter from her with another packet of KoolAide. Johnny had written to her asking her to send him some because, as she told me in a letter, he had said in his last letter to her that the water he had to drink tasted terrible. Those letters from Johnny’s mother were a blessing to me. I hope that her writing to me, and my brief answers, were a blessing to her too.

After returning from Vietnam, I married — the right woman this time, one of a few that I had dated while undergoing flight training. The ladies loved me while I was in flight school, and why wouldn’t they? I was still young, I was free every night of the week, I wasn’t too-bad-looking, an Army officer who had plenty of money to spend and who owned a new white Corvette – one with red interior. Luck struck again when, after a year, the Army offered to move me to attend any accredited university, so as to finish my undergraduate degree, and the Army approved my degree plan too: geography. I loved that subject, love it still. I was paid all pay and allowances, even my flight pay without having to log the obligatory minimum of two flight hours a month. The Army paid for my tuition and books too. In my spare time, I earned a commercial fixed-wing pilot’s license, flying friends and family members around to complete the required cross-country hours involved. This was paid for with Vietnam Era Veterans’ Benefit dollars.

During Advanced Field Artillery Officers’ Course, to which I was sent after graduating from my university under-graduate degree program, I completed a Masters Degree in Business Administration. I was sent to the Advanced Course because I was then too senior to return right away to Vietnam for a second tour. Luck? Maybe, or maybe it was just the way unforeseen events unfolded. I and a handful of other Field Artillery officers at Ft. Sill took advantage of an Oklahoma City University extension course to earn our masters degrees. This too was paid for with Vietnam Era Veterans’ Benefit dollars.

I learned a great deal about working with and leading others during subsequent Army assignments – to flying and various Field Artillery ground assignments at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, a flying and command assignment in Korea, flying, command and staff assignments in Germany, and analyst, test design and test director assignments in materiel acquisitions in Washington, D.C. All of this contributed to a rewarding career servicing engineering and materiel acquisitions contracts for DoD clients and later, teaching high school students in geography and economics courses.

Call me lucky or call me blessed. Either way, it matters only whether you believe in God or not. I do believe in God and I think that I’ve been some lucky and a whole lot blessed. Did I make my own luck? Sure, some of it. I made some good choices that enabled me to take advantage of chance opportunities. But, on the whole, I believe the following passage from scripture best applies: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”                ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20

 Please feel free to post a comment or a question.

 

 

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Published in: on August 3, 2017 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  

The Purpose of Life

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well.

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“He who dies first with the most toys wins!” Maybe you’ve heard this once-popular saying, maybe not. Maybe you laughed when you first heard it. If you’re old enough, maybe you saw it on a bumper sticker back in the 80s and laughed. If you did laugh, maybe you thought, “Well, hell, what else is there really?”

This saying is a quote originally attributed to the flamboyant millionaire, Malcolm Forbes. Forbes was an American entrep- reneur who was prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine, a business that he inherited from his wealthy father. He was also known as an avid promoter of free market, laissez faire capitalism. He was known too for an extravagant lifestyle, for throwing large, expensive parties for his wealthy friends, for travel and for his collections of homes, yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs.

Forbes’ quote serves to sum up the attitude of people like him, people who tend to be more hedonistic. They see life in terms of opportunities for self-indulgence, for pleasure. Me first, they think, my family and friends next – all who serve me, care for me, comfort me, and those who pleasure me. To these types of people, everybody else is just a potential friend/ally or a potential adversary /competition. True hedonists like Forbes believe that this is the highest good and proper aim of human life. I whole- heartedly disagree. I’m a Christian. I am also a Democrat.

I taught a lesson to second graders today. The subject was biodiversity – a compound word, I taught my students – the first part, bio, meaning life, the second part, diversity, meaning many different kinds. The lesson wasn’t really about life; it was about learning to learn. It was about having an open mind, learning to think critically, learning how to compare and contrast. The lesson included an exercise:  comparing and contrasting two different life forms, animals and plants. Yes, second graders are smart enough for this kind of learning, and they’re able to grasp these ideas if the information is presented to them in ways to which they can relate.

I shared with my students how, when I was in school, it was believed that all solid matter was either animal, vegetable or mineral – it was believed that there were only two kingdoms of life: animal and vegetable. Today, I told them, scientists recognize six different kingdoms of life. Life on earth is truly diverse.

A hand went up. “Yes,” I said, recognizing the student.

“What is life, Opa?” I like it that the students in the class I visit on a regular basis call me Opa. It’s what my grandchildren call me.

I might have been thrown off by this question, a deeper question, one that most would not expect a second grader to ask. But I came prepared. I knew how smart, how inquisitive these students are. So I had thought about it ahead of time, I did some research.

“What do you think life is?” I asked the student.

“A gift,” he said, using a rising voice inflection suggesting a question rather than an answer. I surmise that this is something he had been told by a parent, a pastor or another teacher.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe that life is a gift too, one to be treasured, one to be used to good purpose. But that doesn’t truly answer the question scientifically, does it? Are there any other ideas?” I asked. None were offered, so I endeavored to explain.

“It turns out,” I began, “science now believes that solid matter is either organic or inorganic. Organic matter is that which contains compounds including the carbon element. Compound, remember, is a word that means something made up of more than one part, like the compound word, biodiversity. Solid matter that does not contain carbon compounds, like rocks, cannot be alive. But not all organic matter is alive either. All of it either is or once was alive though. Live organic matter has purpose, its primary purpose, is to survive long enough to reproduce, to create new organic material. Organic matter which is not now alive has a purpose too; it feeds organic matter, either directly or indirectly, which is now living. Think of compost, decaying organic matter which we use to feed our garden plants. Think of worms, insect larva, and scavenger birds feeding on the carcasses of dead squirrels and other small animals.

So,” I told my students, “the scientific definition of life is this: It is a transitory state of organic matter, a state in progress of change during which new organic matter is created. This,” I told my students, “is the cycle of life.”

While my students were thinking about this, processing it, I moved on to the exercise, the compare-and-contrast part of my lesson. We focused the rest of our time talking about the similarities and differences between plants and animals. And this, their answers, assured me that they understood how to think critically. I hope they will continue to think critically for their entire lives.

After returning home, I got to thinking about part of my lesson, that part having to do with life, specifically the part about the purpose of life. Is that all there is, I thought, surviving long enough to reproduce? For some forms of life, sure, but, no… surely not for higher forms of life, surely not for humans. I turned to the Study Bible online and found this explaining the famous passage in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: 19For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust21Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

Hold on, didn’t God set man apart from the other animals, gave us dominion over all the earth? That makes us special, does it not? Yes.

The word dominion means to rule or power over.  God has sovereign power over His creation and has delegated the authority to mankind to have dominion over the plants and other animals (Genesis 1:26). King David reinforces this in Psalm 8:6: “You made [mankind] rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” So humanity was meant to “subdue” the earth (Genesis 1:28 to hold a position of command over it; we were placed in a superior role and we are to exercise control over the earth, its flora and fauna.

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well. There is an inherent accountability in God’s command to subdue the earth. Therefore, we have a collective responsibility to learn all there is to know about the earth, its occupants, and our place in the cosmos. We have a collective responsibility to protect and defend the environment.

The word, subdue, doesn’t necessarily imply violence or mistreatment. It can also mean “to bring under cultivation.” It can mean “to love and take care of” and that is the meaning I believe is conveyed in God’s Word. Therefore, understanding its true meaning, we are to be stewards, good stewards, of God’s creation. We are to love ourselves, love our neighbors and all of creation. That is our purpose. That is our greater purpose. But, yes, in due course, we will perform our basic purposes as living organisms too: We will survive to reproduce. But we will also do these things: we will protect and nurture our young as all other higher animals do; we will toil to produce so that we might share with our issue and with our neighbors, especially those who struggle, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually; we will contribute to the common good; we will leave a legacy, and; in due course, we will return to the dust from whence we came, thus completing the life cycle.

Please feel free to comment on this posting.

Published in: on March 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Tale of Two Miracles

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”        ~ Albert Eienstein

I am a huge fan of science fiction movies. I always have been. However, it’s only the good science fiction movies that I’m partial to these days – the kind that reveal truths about humanity. One such movie, Prometheus, the prequel to the classic science fiction movie, Alien, was such a movie. The protagonist in Prometheus is shown as a young girl in a dream sequence. She is with her scientist father at what I gathered to be an archeology dig in India when a Hindu funeral procession passes by. She asks her father what the procession is about and he explains to her that someone has died. Then she asks what happens to us when we die, whether we go to heaven. He replies that he does not know, but that it is what he chooses to believe. Then he wisely asks his daughter what she chooses to believe – giving her the freedom to decide for herself. This experience makes a huge impression on the child. She grows up to become a scientist herself, but she refuses to allow her scientific discoveries, her knowledge concerning the history and evolution of mankind on this earth, to destroy her Christian faith. The experience with her father, the memory of it, drives her to discover more and more answers, to solve the great, unanswered questions about creation – the “how” questions.

I am not a scientist, but I like to think that I have a scientific mind, an open mind. I know that miracles are improbable, that God is improbable. Nonetheless, I believe in God and I believe in miracles. I believe because I choose to believe. God and miracles are possible. It comforts me to believe in them, and so I do.

Albert Einstein has been quoted to say, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” I like that. I like being allowed a choice in what to believe, and I choose to live Einstein’s other way.

candy2It promised to be another hot Indian summer evening back in 1958. I was fourteen years old. Understand please that whole house air-conditioning was unheard of back then. Some people had what we called “swamp” coolers, but we didn’t. So my grandpa and his son, my Uncle Paul, decided to go to a drive-in movie. Drive-in movies were a popular form of evening entertainment back then.

Grandpa and Paul stopped by our house on their way to ask if I wanted to go with them. Well, of course I did. What else was there for me to do that evening except to watch reruns of westerns on our small screen, black and white TV:  Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Cheyenne, Wyatt Earp, etc. Westerns were all the rage on TV back then.

Mom, having the night off from her waitress job, said that I could go; she wouldn’t need me that night to watch my little sister, Candy. Maybe she figured that I deserved a night off too.

The movie was a double feature. The only one of the two I remember had Vincent Price in it. I think it was “The House of Wax,” or maybe “The House of Usher.” The other movie was another scary flick, but not one quite so memorable.

By the time we got back to my house it was after eleven o’clock. There were cars, including a police car, and crowds of people in our front yard. The crowd included a news team from one of the two papers in Salt Lake City, either the Tribune or the Deseret News. Grandpa pulled up and parked as close as he could and we all three literally jumped out of the car and ran to the yard where my mother stood in a bathrobe and slippers. She was in tears.

“Mom, mom, what’s happened?” I asked.

“Oh, Kent…” she said, grabbing me tightly in her arms, “it’s alright now. She’s been found. But only if you had been here, this wouldn’t have happened. You’d have found her sooner, I know.”

Grandpa took my place in mom’s arms, embracing her himself. “Oh, pop,” mom said.

This was the only time that I ever saw my grandpa embrace anyone – not my grandma, not his son, not me — nobody. He was not a touchy-feeling kind of guy. But he did not hesitate to physically comfort my mom that night.

I don’t think I have ever seen anybody cry tears like mom cried that night.

After a bit, mom got enough control of her emotions to tell us what had happened. While she was distracted in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, this was shortly after we had left for the movie, Candy left the house. Maybe she left thinking that she could follow me, her Bubba. She was just three years old and we were tight. I used to carry her on my shoulders when we, with our mom, visited Liberty Park, Hogel Zoo and other such places in the Salt Lake Valley. She would hold on tight with her little hands under my chin. I loved my little sister, and she loved me. Of this I never doubted.

Candy walked up the street she had watched us drive away on, a street without sidewalks. She walked on the asphalt pavement of that street. Maybe she wanted to be with her Bubba that night… Thank God no car had run over her in the dim evening light.

Candy got a block away from the house. Then, for some reason, stopped to enter a neighbor’s back yard. She somehow opened the gate to the backyard in which huge dog lived. She was found several hours later by the home owners when they returned from wherever – maybe dinner. They found her curled up asleep on the back porch with their dog. It was protecting Candy.

The whole neighborhood had been looking for Candy. The Scout Master with his Boy Scout troop had searched the nearby fields. They had waded up and down the deep, muddy creek near our house hoping they wouldn’t find Candy’s little body facedown among the cattails. Searchers had knocked on every door for blocks around, but no one had thought to look in the backyard where she was eventually found. They knew there was a big, black, scary dog back there and he had been barking incessantly.

Candy was now home, safely asleep in her own bed.

Was it a miracle that Candy was not hurt or worse? Mom, a lifelong agnostic, said that it was.

Years later, after having donated blood which was my habit, my choice to do whenever the bloodmobile came around to our church in Northern Virginia, I got a call from the Red Cross. A lady on the other end of the line told me that a routine test of my blood revealed an issue that I should discuss with my private physician. I asked what issue, but she said she could not discuss it with me. She could only tell me that they would not be able to use my blood. So, since I was still on active duty with the U.S. Army in the Washington D.C. area, I called to make an appointment with the health clinic in the Pentagon. Blood was drawn and I was called back into the clinic the next day to speak with a doctor.

Test results had revealed that my blood was positive for Hepatitis C. Back then, it was the next thing to a death sentence. I was told that there wasn’t anything that could be done, not until I would eventually start having symptoms, mild at first: fever, feeling tired, poor appetite. But that these symptoms would get progressively worse leading to painful cirrhosis of the liver and eventual death. I was told that expensive and uncomfortable interferon treatments might be able to slow or defeat the progress of the disease and that research was being done on other treatments, so I should not give up hope. I was also told that it might take years for the disease to progress to the point that treatment could be administered. From that point on, and for years, I lived in dread.

I was an active member of our church back then. But my faith was still… blooming, not yet strong. Still, I prayed remembering Jesus’ prayer that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass from me.”

Years later, living with this almost certain death sentence, I had still not developed symptoms. But every time I caught a cold or had a touch of flu, I thought my time had come.

Life continued on and circumstances caused us to move from Virginia to Missouri and from there to Texas. My follow-on career after the Army as a consultant for military materiel acquisition programs ended when the Aviation Materiel Command moved from St. Louis to Huntsville, Alabama, there to merge with the Missile Command. To continue supporting my customers, I’d have had to move to Huntsville. But my wife wanted nothing to do with that. She wanted to move to Texas, and so we did. Accordingly, I decided to reinvent myself. I decided to go back to school for the classes I would need to qualify for a teaching certificate in public schools.

It was perhaps a year later when my new doctor in Dallas requested me to return to give another blood sample for testing. He had called me personally, informing me that the most recent Hepatitis C test had come back negative. He wanted to have a more rigorous test done to confirm. Elated after the second test also came back negative, I asked how it could be possible. My doctor said that he did not know. He said that spontaneous remission wasn’t totally unheard of, but that it was rare.

Was this a miracle? I don’t know. But I chose at the time to believe that it was and I maintain that belief today. Maybe God was pleased with my decision to become a teacher and wanted me to hang around a little while longer – to have a chance to make positive contributions in the lives of young people. Who knows?

Studies done recently on the spontaneous remission of Hepatitis C indicate that it’s not all that rare after all, that twenty to as many as perhaps fifty percent of those contracting the infection will eventually, and for some little understood reason, recover. Maybe I was just one among the lucky ones. But I like to believe that I was spared for a reason.

So, what do you choose to believe? Are miracles real or are they simply reminders that we do not know everything?

Please feel free to comment.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 9:55 am  Comments (1)  

Joy ~ The True Happiness

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“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”             
Proverbs 3:13-18

When I read the above passage, my understanding of what God is telling us is that there is wisdom, lasting joy, for those of us who are able find contentment in life, self-confidence and peace. To me the passage means that this state of mind is preferable to the transitory feelings of happiness which may come and last for moments or for days. Happiness, psychologists tell us, is the emotion we feel from obtaining new material things, winning a race, for obtaining a goal. But the happy feeling never lasts. The new car smell doesn’t last. So, on to the next challenge, the next… desire. The accumulation of happy feelings over time, however, can boost our base level emotion. But the ups and downs in life tend to cancel each other out. So how do we find lasting joy?

Our Sunday school lesson this week was on this subject, the difference between joy and happiness and the relationship between the two. There was, as usual in our class, much discussion; people had different opinions, and that is as it should be. But joy, in a Biblical sense, I believe, is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life. It is rather an attitude of the heart or of the spirit. To have it, I believe, one must be connected with God, or to other people in our lives, or with nature, or by appreciating the arts, or by growing passionate about the things we do, our jobs, our hobbies. It requires an acceptance of life as it is in the present. To me, joy is the “true” happiness.

During our lesson, I interrupted our teacher, perhaps too soon in the lesson, to opine that happiness is to joy as the weather is to climate. I don’t think that anyone in the class quite understood that. But let me here try to explain what I meant. The weather in any particular place on the earth changes constantly. Climates in different places are more permanent; they are the cumulative or aggregates of the weather conditions and they are the driving determinates of weather conditions. In a tropical climate, the weather is less changeable. It is quite warm and humid most of the time. In an arctic climate, the weather is cold and quite dry most of the time. In a temperate climate, seasons are more pronounced. Here in Texas which has a temperate, subtropical climate, the weather changes from day to day, often from hour to hour. Yesterday, the 24th of January 2017, the temperature mid day in Dallas was near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By tonight, the temperature will be in the low 40s.

Sometimes life does not treat us well, like a cold snap. We may experience financial devastation, become ill, go through a divorce, develop a chronic illness, become disabled, experience the death of a loved one. We all have to adapt to growing older. These things, these transitions or challenges are all aspects of life, and we all experience them to varying degrees until the day we die. These things can sap our joy. But if we are tethered spiritually, emotionally to something greater, we can persevere with lasting joy. I have known people like this, people who had a glowing countenance, a shining spirit.  My wife’s grandmother was such a person. We called her, Ms. D.

Ms. D. was a retired school teacher, a widow who gave herself to others. She was the calm, quiet presence in a room when others in my wife’s family bickered with one another. Despite crippling Rheumatoid arthritis, she had a perpetual smile on her face and she always had a kind word. She was brilliant — studied mathematics in college but was denied a degree in the discipline because she was a woman. Disappointed but not defeated, she found another, better calling as a teacher. She gave herself to young children, and she loved them. She loved our Lord Jesus too — loved to minister to friends in her Bible class on Sundays and she encouraged her family, including my wife, in the ways of our Lord. Ms D found wisdom. She got understanding. Ms. D knew joy — the “real” happiness.

Some people believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment despite life’s challenges. Joy, they understand, is an internal, lasting emotional condition. I too believe this, that we can decide to pursue meaningful, rewarding relationships and life pursuits. We can grow in wisdom and nurture joy.

Some people believe that joy is just a synonym for happiness, a word for great happiness. Yes, in certain contexts, the word is used that way. But I believe the word, as used in Scripture, has a different meaning — a more meaningful meaning.

My life changed for the better when my granddaughter brought her daughter, my precious Kaleiyah, into my life. The times I have spent with this very special child, caregiving, teaching and nurturing, have lifted my base level of happiness permanently. I shared this with my Sunday school class and this I know they understood. Although Kaleiyah is no longer with me on a daily basis as she was for a few years during her formative childhood, she will forever be in my heart. She may grow up or move permanently away, but she will always be with me. When I do get to spend time with her, I am happy. When I don’t get to see her for days and sometimes weeks at a time, I am unhappy. Still, she remains a source of lasting joy.

Psychologists tell us that when someone experiences joyfulness, physiological and biochemical alterations occur that encourage a sense of well-being which completely alter the negative views of life. Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.

So, how can we pursue joy? Is it sufficient to constantly seek more and more heightened pleasures? I think not.

Dr. Cheryl A. McDonald, licensed clinical psychologist, noted author, lecturer and director of the Health Psychology Center has some suggestions in the secular vein.

  1. Choosing to Smile (I don’t do this enough) and consciously deciding to have a good day induces endorphins and other uplifting chemicals in the brain. Nothing can dampen your mood when you know the techniques involving how to bring on joy. Everyone can indeed develop inner joy. Using these techniques can bring on temporary happiness, however practice frequently throughout the day and on a daily basis will increase that baseline happiness level and bring about the more consistent feeling of joy.
  2. Meditation and Imagining (I don’t do this enough) that you have received something you wish for will improve happiness which is of short duration. However, it is important to avoid mixing this fantasy with reality. Imagining or wishing you had something is very temporary. With practice, meditation and becoming mindful in the spiritual sense will bring about lasting joy.
  3. Positive Thinking (I don’t do this nearly enough) or making it your goal to think positive often brings happiness to the surface quickly. Adopting a positive attitude can indeed improve the mood and bring on temporary happiness. Regardless of the problem, situation, or circumstance, people do get to choose whether they want to feel happy and joyful, or depressed and sad. The key is to practice this technique and make it a daily goal. Practice recognizing the simple delights in life.
  4. Feeling Grateful (This I do a lot) about what you do have is a deeper emotion and consciously practicing or focusing on what you have in life will increase that baseline level and bring on the lasting feeling of joy. Feeling grateful for your health, employment, family, friends, home, etc., basically makes people feel content.
  5. Notice Immediate Surroundings  (This I doStop and become aware of the positive aspects of your life. Most will find plenty of evidence that happiness is sometimes hidden in many areas, people just have to be aware.  Consistently stopping and noticing the positive pieces of the immediate surroundings will consistently increase awareness and increase that baseline level to feel consistent joy. Stop….Ask yourself, “What is pleasurable about this moment”?
  6. Become Active and Support (This is what I endeavor to do most) a cause that you really believe is worthy. Or become active on a smaller scale by practicing random acts of kindness. Helping others increases the endorphin like chemicals in the brain.  Becoming active in a cause helps people feel in control or empowered, especially when facing a difficult life challenge.
  7. And I would add, seek to further a relationship with your “higher” power.

A person’s genetic baseline level of happiness, according to Dr. McDonald, is fixed on the personality style in which they were born. So, on a certain level, some of us have to struggle more to be anything but a sourpuss. But this baseline level of happiness, she contends, can increase over time. People can receive the internal feeling consistent with joy by practicing certain behaviors and techniques. So do strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today! Life can be worth the living.

Please feel free to post a comment on this.

Published in: on January 25, 2017 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

The Christmas Morning Fort

We have been using Max Lucado’s study guide, “Because of Bethlehem,” for Advent in Sunday school this year. It’s been a great guide to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the big day soon to come. Christmas is just two weeks away.

This morning’s lesson, based on Session Three of Lucado’s video series, was: “God Guides the Wise.” It was about the three wise men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to find and worship the newborn King of the Jews. Mostly, it was about how they deservedly earned their moniker, and how true wisdom is not so much about practical matters, but more about living a good and kind life with deeds done in humility. It was powerful! The discussion questions, and some of what others in our class shared, were moving. But most moving to me were the memories that welled up within me, memories of past Christmas experiences.

One discussion question about holiday travel brought back vivid memories. The memories were about times when I had behaved poorly on Christmas mornings, not with humility at all. The question was based on a passage in Matthew, Chapter 12:2. It reads, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they (the wise men) departed to their own country by another way.” The message in this passage clearly suggests that God imparts wisdom to those of us who are open to receive it.

Image result for wise men

In my memory, I was reliving how I felt many Christmas mornings years ago while driving the miles between our home in Lawton, Oklahoma to the home of my wife’s parents in Weatherford, Texas. The trip took us about two hours, one way, and our two boys, long since grown, barely had time these mornings to open their gifts before we had to be on the road. It was a family expectation that we would spend Christmas Day with my wife’s parents. I was resentful, and I’m sure that I must have complained to my wife about it, in the process making her Christmases less enjoyable too. Shame on me.

One Christmas, perhaps because of my attitude about these Christmas morning road trips, my wife’s parents agreed to come to our place. On arrival, their attitude was much more joyful than mine had been when we traveled to their place. My wife’s dad was especially joyful – excited actually. He had brought with him a special Christmas gift for his grandsons: a prefabricated play fort.

Towed behind his van was a trailer with the fort’s component parts: lumber, nails, shingles, bags of concrete mix, four very long telephone poles, and tools for the construction. His design, quite ingenious actually, was for an enclosed room with a floor, a gabled roof and shuttered windows, all perched about a dozen feet off the ground on a tower of telephone poles. The design incorporated a rope ladder suspended from an opening in the floor of the elevated room. The fort, as he had envisioned it, would be constructed in one corner of our backyard.  I would be his construction helper… only I had not been given advance warning about his plan for us to labor together Christmas Day. Surprise! Did I mention that it was freezing cold that Christmas morning? No, I didn’t.

Attitude? Yeah, I had one. But when I saw how excited my boys were and how they loved their grandfather — Popo they called him — for his loving gift, well, I sat down with dad and listened to his plan over a cup of coffee. The more I listened, the more I got over my attitude and resolved to spend a memorable Christmas, and a few days thereafter, working side-by-side with him.

Tom was his name, I always called him this, or Popo, never dad. But, not having had a dad of my own while growing up, he became my surrogate dad. He’s gone now… been gone for several years. But the more I think about him, the more he becomes my true dad.

Holes for the telephone poles were dug with a posthole digger that dad had brought with him on the trailer from Weatherford, and a “sharpshooter” shovel that I just happened to have. I would dig awhile, then dad would spell me. The frozen ground made for hard work, but we dug together till noon. Then we took a long break for lunch prepared by the ladies. We finished the day with the poles set in concrete, perfectly aligned and angled to mount the tower’s room. Dad had it all planned. I imagine that he had spent countless hours with his design, calculating just how to ensure that all the parts for the fort would line up just right.

I was glad for the warmth of our fireplace that evening after we had quit for the day.

It would take us several more days before the whole project was finished. In that time, we grew closer, dad sharing his passions for politics and Dallas Cowboy football. He shared more than this with me too. He shared his wisdom — wisdom born not of facts or reason, but wisdom born of love.

God, I miss that man…

Published in: on December 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm  Comments (3)  

Why Hurting People Hurt People

“When a man has a gift in speaking the truth, aggression is no longer his security blanket for approval. He, on the contrary, spends most of his energy trying to tone it down because his very nature is already offensive enough.”  ~ Criss Jami

The senior pastor of our church regularly writes and publishes a missive for church members, sending it out by email. I, rather sporadically, write and publish to this weblog. While neither of us is likely to be awarded Pulitzer prizes for these efforts, the writing and sharing is good for our souls. It might even, from time to time, inspire others to reflect on matters of interest and concern. My pastor’s last effort did that for me. He wrote about the spiritual aspects of hurt people hurting other people, which struck close to home for me.

We probably all know people who respond to hurt in their lives by hurting back, and not necessarily hurting back those who, either directly or indirectly, hurt them. Actually, most of us do this ourselves – unintentionally, perhaps. But still, we do it. We hurt innocents, those closest to us, family members and friends. But why? That was the takeaway question for me from my pastor’s last missive. I decided to try to find out — to do some research.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the Mills Brothers’ classic song, “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” might enjoy hearing it once again.

My research confirmed for me that emotionally damaged people do tend to inflict their hurt and pain on others. Like animals that have been mistreated, we become aggressive, mean and difficult to deal with. But unlike other animals, people aren’t so likely to be openly aggressive to everyone. For defensive reasons, we tend to hide our pain from the world at large and reflect or transfer our hurt feelings onto those with whom we are closest, those with whom we feel safe. Safe people are like punching bags that can’t or won’t just walk away from us.

Decade’s worth of research on this has been distilled into a paper, “Everyday Aggression Takes Many Forms,” by Dr. Deborah South Richardson. It was published in the journal, Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Getting even, it seems, is an innate emotional need in human beings. Doing so may justify our self-worth and fortify our self-esteem. Perhaps it’s self-gratification, I don’t know. Dr. Richardson’s paper doesn’t say. It is known, however, that a large percentage of those who have been sexually abused become themselves the abusers of others. It could be that they are, in a way, getting even. Those who suffered under an alcoholic parent often become the cause of suffering in their own future families. It’s difficult for me to believe, however, that they, in anyway, do this intentionally. In truth though, the people we know and love the most are the same people we’re most awful to in word and deed. “The people who are likely to cause us harm of any sort are likely going to be people we know,” wrote Dr. Richardson in her review. “It’s not the strangers we need to fear.”

Dr. Richardson and other researchers like her have focused on defining aggression based on someone’s intent, and not on whether an aggressive action actually ends up hurting someone. “Whether or not you actually caused harm isn’t the critical issue,” she wrote. “It’s that you intended to. If I aim my gun and shoot at you but miss, my intention was still aggressive.”

What else is known about aggression, based on what has been studied on the topic? A few of the other main findings from Richardson’s review are listed below:

The basic types of aggression are direct and non-direct aggression. Direct aggression involves yelling, hitting, confrontations and hurtful actions and words. Men are more likely than women to use this kind of aggression, including sexual aggression. Non-direct aggression is hurting without a confrontation. There are two types of non-direct aggression: indirect, which is hurting someone through something or someone else, and passive, which is hurting someone by not doing something.

Examples of indirect aggression include gossip, spreading rumors or destroying someone’s favorite possession. Men and women both use indirect aggression equally, and they both use it more than direct aggression. People are also more likely to use indirect aggression if they’re connected to their friends in dense networks — in other words, when friends all know each other, they can (perhaps unwittingly) carry out hurtful deeds on behalf of others more easily. Passive aggression can include things like ignoring phone calls, giving someone the silent treatment or showing up late to an event.

We tend to remember others’ aggressive behaviors and dismiss or forget about our own. We rationalize that our own aggressiveness is necessary — justified because we have to compete to get ahead or to have things our way. When we reciprocate, aggression for aggression, it’s because we need, or feel that we need, to be compensated for the hurt once inflicted upon us.

What had been a devoted, loving relationship between my mother and me became something else soon after she married the father of my two younger brothers. Perhaps because he, my mother’s new husband, considered me to be a threat in some way, he was emotionally abusive to me. His attitude and mean, drunken behavior drove me away. He hurt me, but there was collateral hurt as well, my leaving hurt my mother and it hurt my darling little sisters too, two tender young hearts for whom I had been Bubba, a caregiver and a playmate. I was just sixteen at the time. They were preschoolers. I visited my mother and siblings only on occasion thereafter, living estranged from them with my grandparents until my first marriage. My mother blamed me for this situation which, in some ways, mirrored her own troubled youth. She considered me to be rebellious and she became aggressive toward me, but non-directively. I could cite examples of how, but that would be unnecessary here – maybe even hurtful to my siblings for whom, rightfully so, our mother was a saint.

According to Dr. Richardson, aggression is often confused with assertiveness. Assertiveness, according to her, is about expressing our needs or concerns while aggression involves the intent to actually hurt someone. I cannot entirely agree with her on this — assertiveness often morphs into aggression. Intentional or unintentional, when someone causes another pain and becomes aware that he or she was responsible, that’s aggression. This is especially true when there is no acknowledgement or expression of regret and a request for forgiveness. It makes no difference either whether the pain inflicted was physical or emotional. Even if the giver of pain is mentally or emotionally irresponsible, the act is still an aggressive one.

Please feel free to post a comment, whether you agree with what I’ve written or not. I would very much enjoy dialoguing about this.

Published in: on October 29, 2016 at 1:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Choosing to Live a Second-Line Life

My mother and I went to see a movie in 1959, Imitation of Life. I got my first glimpse into what it means to be living a Second-Line life in this movie. Although I didn’t understand it then, I did feel it.

I was more than just a little depressed over a frustrating, painful, recurring family situation. I was unable to sleep much because of this and got up early; the sun would be hours before creeping over the horizon. I made myself some coffee and sat down to think things through. After a bit, I decided that the situation was beyond my control. I remembered that this rollercoaster situation had resolved itself, at least to a degree, several times before. I concluded that it would probably do so again. I reasoned that it would do me no good, would in fact do me harm, to worry about it. So I decided to take my mind off of it. To do this, I started “Second-Line” living. I started celebrating some of the best times of my life.

secondline“The tradition of the Second Line originated in New Orleans, dating back to the early 1800’s when slaves and free people of color created what are known as ‘jazz funerals.’ In these funerals, the ‘first line’ is made up of the family, walking slowly and mournfully to the cemetery. But when the burial is over, the ‘second line’, composed of a jazz band and friends, begin marching through the streets, joyfully dancing and celebrating the life of the deceased, and helping release his or her soul” (from Citizens of Hope, Clayton Oliphant & Mary Brooke Casad, Abingdon Press, 2016, pgs. 87-88).

I had had enough of mourning what could not be undone, what I alone could not fix. I prayed about it, then I buried it. I picked up my iPad and started making a list — counting my blessings.

The concept of Second-Line Living has a scriptural basis in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, wherein Jesus raises his friend, Lazarus, from the dead: 38 Again feeling very upset, Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave with a large stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Move the stone away.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since he died. There will be a bad smell.” 40 Then Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but I said these things because of the people here around me. I want them to believe that you sent me.” 43 After Jesus said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with pieces of cloth, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take the cloth off of him and let him go.”

The cloth in this story which bound Lazarus symbolizes that which burdens us, hinders us from living free, preventing us from seeing the beautiful things in our lives and doing good and beautiful things in compliance with God’s commandments, most particularly, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

These are a few, but only a few, of the highlights in my life so far. The list I made on my iPad went on and on and on. I’m not bragging, but I truly have lived a blessed life. The few highlights that I’m choosing to share here serve to illustrate how I focused on the positive to get beyond the pain that I was feeling. They are in order as they occurred to me for purposes of this listing (not necessarily in order of best to less than best, nor are they in chronological order):

  • My second-marriage wedding day (my first marriage wasn’t so wonderful)
  • Opening night of our high school operetta, South Pacific, with me in one of the leading roles, Emile DeBecque
  • Holding my first grandchild who was just days old
  • Being cheered by my OCS (Officer Candidate School) battery candidate contemporaries after winning an inter-battery PT competition in the horizontal ladders event
  • Completing my helicopter tactical instrument check ride in the Army’s Rotary Wing Flight School with a flawless performance
  • The sunset celebration of my mother’s life on a beach in California with my wife, my siblings, their spouses and children
  • Being present in the delivery room to observe the birth of my second son
  • Skiing in the Austrian Alps with my family
  • Being asked to serve and serving for two years as Lay Leader for a local congregation of the United Methodist Church
  • As mission pilot-in-command in a CH-34 helicopter, performing an emergency landing necessitated by an engine failure and avoiding any damage to the aircraft or injury to my passengers
  • Teaching my first class in a public high school after becoming a certified teacher of Social Studies subjects
  • Receiving many compliments after delivering the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral
  • Being asked to officiate the exchange of vows ceremony in Bali, Indonesia (after the official/civil marriage in Singapore) for my second son and daughter-in-law who is now best friend

People of faith, by means of their faith in Christ Jesus, can enter into a new life. The fact of physical death no longer has control over them. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting” (1 Corinthians 15:15)?  The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, the victory over sin, and over all that burdens us in this life, is available through our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Jesus, in the story of raising Lazarus from the dead, is making a promise to us about how we can live our lives, not just how they will end.

All of us, to varying degrees, are limited by fear. We fear embarrassment. We fear abandonment. We fear failure. We fear death. This is what Jesus is addressing. This is from what Jesus wants us to be free. Like the First and Second lines of jazz funerals, we can grieve the loss of loved ones, grieve the consequences of failure and disappointment, grieve our limitations, but we need not allow this loss to forever hinder our lives. Life goes on with us, whether we willingly or unwillingly participate.

My mother and I went to see a movie in 1959, “Imitation of Life.” I got my first glimpse into what it means to be living a Second-Line life in this movie. Although I didn’t understand it then, I did feel it.

Launa Turner plays the part of a beautiful woman in this movie, one who was born half white and half black. Although her black half was not at all physically apparent, it was a burden to her. The reality of it, her attempts to hide from it, fear that she might be found out, was a burden, one that hindered her both socially and professionally. Worse, she allowed this fear to alienate her from her birth mother. She could neither receive her mother’s love nor express the love she felt. Her life was not free. But the movie had a tear-jerker ending. The mother gets her last wish, a lavish funeral complete with a beautiful, horse-drawn hearse and a Second-Line Jazz band. Just before the funeral procession sets off, the daughter pushes through the crowd of mourners to throw herself upon her mother’s casket, begging forgiveness. Casting off her burden of denial, she is now free to live a fuller, richer life.

Fear has been described as False Evidence Appearing Real. The false evidence is our mistaken belief that nothing can improve after a tragedy. At these times it is easy to forget that God is present and that God’s favorite thing to do is transformation – change for the better. Tragedies, like the shootings in Orlando this year, the Newtown shootings in 2012 and others,  are events which need to be grieved. They speak to how fragile life really is. But this is First-Line thinking. Second-Line thinking reminds us that these things do not need to define us or limit us. We can, and should, respond by doing all that we can to prevent such senseless deaths in the future. But, politically frustrating as our attempts are to prevent or limit future such things from happening, faith in Christ and an understanding of God’s loving presence offers us hope.

Grace and Peace

Published in: on October 16, 2016 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

America, Are We Not Still Great?

quote-a-nation-s-greatness-is-measured

National pride is a good thing. We all want to feel proud of our country. Donald Trump knows this, so his campaign for president is appealing to this desire. He has based his campaign on the idea that our country isn’t great anymore, that eight years of Obama in the White House and Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State are the reasons why. He promises, that he, and only he, can restore us to greatness again. His campaign motto is, Make America Great Again. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is countering this message with the idea that we are still a great nation but acknowledges that we do have problems. Her campaign promises that, by working together, we can address these problems — make progress toward a brighter future for all. Her campaign motto is, We Are Stronger Together.

In truth, most of us, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and Independents alike, have awakened to the realization that we really aren’t as great a nation as we once thought we were. Only the reasons that we aren’t are not the same reasons that many die-hard Trump supporters believe. We don’t fall short of true greatness because our military is weak or our economy is not strong and expanding. It’s not because we are compassionate and tolerate millions of undocumented immigrants to remain and do work in our country that most of our citizens won’t do. It’s not because we allow LGBTQ persons equal protection and liberties under law. Neither do we fall short of true greatness because we have expanded access to health care for twenty-plus millions of our citizens. It’s certainly not true because we have an African American president. It is true, however, that we aren’t the greatest nation by many empirical measures.

According to the World Economic Forum‘s Global Competitiveness Report (2012-2013), the U.S. ranks as #1 on only 4 out of the 117 different factors that are rated, and each of these 4 factors reflects merely the sheer size, the hugeness, of the U.S. economy. These four factors might thus collectively be identified as the Hugeness components: “GDP,” “GDP as a Share of World GDP,” “Available Airline Seat Kilometers,” and “Domestic Market Size Index.” Other than Hugeness, the results for the U.S. are not at all outstanding. They are metrics of mediocracy.

Health Care shows the U.S. ranking as #34 on “Life Expectancy,” and as #41 on “Infant Mortality.” (And, of course, unlike the “Infant Mortality” rankings from UNICEF, this ranking is among 144 countries. Thus: some underdeveloped countries actually have higher life-expectancy than does the U.S.)

Education in the U.S. is also apparently mediocre. On “Quality of Primary Education,” we are #38. On “Primary Education Enrollment Rate,” we are #58. On “Quality of the Educational System,” we are #28. On “Quality of Math and Science Education,” we are #47. On “Quality of Scientific Research Institutions,” we are #6. On “PCT [Patent Cooperation Treaty] Patent Applications [per-capita],” we are #12. On “Firm-Level Technology Absorption” (which is an indicator of business-acceptance of inventions), we are #14.

Trust is likewise only moderately high in the U.S. We rank #10 on “Willingness to Delegate Authority,” #42 on “Cooperation in Labor-Employer Relations,” and #18 in “Degree of Customer Orientation” of firms.

Corruption seems to be a rather pervasive problem in the U.S. On “Diversion of Public Funds [due to corruption],” the U.S. ranks #34. On “Irregular Payments and Bribes” (which is perhaps an even better measure of lack of corruption) we are #42. On “Public Trust in Politicians,” we are #54. On “Judicial Independence,” we are #38. On “Favoritism in Decisions of Government Officials” (otherwise known as governmental “cronyism”), we are #59. On “Organized Crime,” we are #87. On “Ethical Behavior of Firms,” we are #29. On “Reliability of Police Services,” we are #30. On “Transparency of Governmental Policy Making,” we are #56. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Challenging Regulations,” we are #37. On “Efficiency of Legal Framework in Settling Disputes,” we are #35. On “Burden of Government Regulation,” we are #76. On “Wastefulness of Government Spending,” we are also #76. On “Property Rights” protection (the basic law-and-order measure), we are #42.

We fall short of true greatness, in my opinion, because: (1) we allow the greed of a few rich and powerful families to control our government; (2) we emphasize the acquisition of wealth over the equitable sharing of proceeds with those who labor; (3) we fail to prioritize for the funding of education, programs to alleviate suffering, and programs to lift struggling families out of poverty; (4) we protect industries that poison and pollute our environment, even subsidize their business practices, rather than promote sustainable technologies and practices; (5) we believe that “for-profit” solutions are superior to public solutions for healthcare, education, and incarceration; (6) we protect free-speech at the expense of truth. And we have allowed our basic freedoms under the Constitution to make us less well informed, less safe, less equal, less democratic, and more divided.

To improve on the measures cited above, we truly do need to come together. No one and neither major political party can alone fix what’s wrong. We don’t all have to think alike. That would be asking way too much. But we can at least stop politicizing every issue. We can at least stop with the exceptional, elitist and “hell-no” obstructionist attitudes and work to find common ground. No one, and no political party, is right all the time.

Please feel free to comment on this. I would enjoy discussing it with you, especially if you disagree with any of it.

Published in: on October 12, 2016 at 10:03 am  Comments (3)  

Dealing with Prejudice

“We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”    ~ Haile Selassie

As a teacher of Geography (the study of man and his environ- ments), I endeavored early-on with each new class to teach my high school students the difference between race, national origin, and ethnicity. It was an easy lesson to teach, but it was not an easy lesson to learn for many of my students. They were prejudiced, as are we all, acculturated by regional, local and familiar traditions, beliefs and practices. And prejudices are difficult to overcome; they must be unlearned.

Why Prejudice

Beliefs, quite often, are based less on facts and more on feelings — feelings that we acquire early from family members’ attitudes, teachings, and from our own personal experiences. No one is born prejudiced. We are taught to be prejudiced. If, when we are young, we are told that we should not trust others who look and behave differently, all it takes is one negative experience with someone of a different race or ethnicity to cement that admonition psycho- logically. And, if that first encounter is with someone who was told the same thing, the encounter will surely be negative. All creatures, humans included, are suspicious by nature. “It’s eat or be eaten,” a defensive/survival mechanism.

Defining Race

So, what is race? There are different opinions. But to deal with the issue of racial prejudice, I believe we need to have a common understanding of what it is. Most of my students here in Texas, thought that to be Mexican was to be racially distinctive. It’s not. Mexican is a nationality or a national origin. When I was growing up soon after the end of WWII, anyone with almond shaped eyes, black hair and a distinctive tint to darker skin was a Jap until they proved otherwise. And to us, Japs (persons of Japanese national and or ethnic origin) were a separate race from us. To this day, in Singapore, which is a very diverse nation/city-state ethnically, people of different national origins and ethnicities, Chinese, Malay, Indian, are considered to be different races — this according to my daughter-in-law who is Singaporean and still lives there with my son and new granddaughter. She is not unlike most people I know in that she is very sensitive about the subject of race. However, she is very much not a racist. We have that in common.

According to LiveScience, “Race is associated with biology, whereas ethnicity is associated with culture. In biology, races are genetically distinct populations within the same species; they typically have relatively minor morphological and genetic differences. Although all humans belong to the same species (Homo sapiens), and even to the same sub-species (Homo sapiens sapiens), there are small genetic variations across the globe that engender diverse physical appearances, such as variations in skin color.”

For more on this and how this might have come into being, I would recommend the book, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, in his 1775 treatise, The Natural Varieties of Mankind, proposed five major races: the Caucasoid race (including the Abyssinians, later designated as Ethiopid Mediterraneans), the Mongoloid race, the Ethiopian race (later termed Negroid), the American Indian race, and the Malayan race, but he did not propose any hierarchy among the races. He also noted in his treatise the graded transition in appearances from one group to adjacent groups and suggested that, “One variety of mankind does so sensibly pass into the other, that you cannot mark out the limits between them.”

Why Blumenbach was Wrong

The morphological differences between what we think of as races is not largely evident in our DNA. For example, according to LiveScience, recent genetic studies show that skin color may drastically change in just a few generations as a result of environmental influences. This substantiates my belief in environmental determinism, although the belief has been associated in the past with institutionalized racism and eugenics. There is even a popular evolutionary theory that early humans living in the northern climes of Europe grew progressively lighter-skinned over time. This is because, or so the theory goes, that lighter skin favored the absorption of greater amounts of vitamin D, this vitamin being necessary for the development/growth of stronger bones. Interestingly, the DNA of two humans chosen at random generally varies by less than 0.1 percent. This is less genetic variation than other types of hominids (such as chimpanzees and orangutans). So, it is my belief that we are all members of the same race, the human race.

It is truly unfortunate that we humans discriminate based on less than 0.1 percent on what differentiates us biologically, but we do. We have so much more in common than we have different. But this difference is what we can see, and human judgment is readily made based on sight, our dominant sense — our defensive instinct. You look different, therefore you are a threat.

The Reeducation Process

Racial and ethnic prejudice are forms of bigotry. Overcoming it in societies is not an easy thing to do — in fact, it has yet to be achieved anywhere to my knowledge. It may never be overcome because it resides within the individual heart. The U.S. and Singapore have made great strides in the past socially engineering to this end. But in both countries, bigotry remains a problem. People have to really want to live in harmony with others. Many do not and some never will.

In the U.S., the desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948 and that of public schools in 1954 with the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. The Board of Education decision were huge steps in the right direction. Then came the Civil Rights Act in 1960 followed by President Johnson’ Affirmative Action Executive Order in 1965 . But a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) study indicates that many school districts in the U.S. are every bit as much segregated as they were before 1960. School of Choice, which is most popular in Southern, more conservative states, legally redirects state tax dollars from integrated public schools to charter schools where families with the means to transport their children to and from school can have them attend classes wherein the students all look pretty much alike. This is an end-around to school desegregation.

Affirmative Action initiatives now, bowing to blow-backs claiming reverse discrimination against white America, have pretty much run their course. Discrimination against minorities, to include women, Muslims and LGBTQ persons, despite laws and executive orders at the national level are re-surging.

In my opinion, only in the federal government in the U.S., in particular, the military services where desegregation and the abolishment of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell pay dividends to maintaining order and increasing force effectiveness, is true progress against discrimination being made. In the federal government, rules can be enforced.

On the surface, Singapore seems like a perfectly egalitarian state where residents of all ages, religious creeds, and races peacefully coexist. I know, I have been there and have experienced the welcoming attitude of all three of its major ethnic groups. I have experienced too how ex-patriots from the U.S., Australia and other nations are welcomed and can integrate readily. This does not mean, however, that discrimination in Singapore doesn’t exist. It does, but Singaporeans cannot openly discriminate, this according to my daughter-in-law. Discrimination exists, it’s just not openly visible. But Singaporeans of all races/ethnicities (call it what you like) have equitable access to education and job opportunities. The country operates as a meritocracy where talent and determination is prized above race and connections. As a result, the country has a vigorous and very strong economy. It ranks as one of the world’s wealthiest nations on a per capita basis, and there is a very low crime rate.

Unlike in the U.S., were civil liberties permit open displays of bigotry (as Donald Trump’s current presidential campaign attests), Singapore’s government is quite different. Its restrictive legislature and strict laws such as the Sedition Act have all but silenced debates on matters of race, ethnicity, and religion. This makes it very difficult to accurately assess discrimination issues there. But, on the positive side, thanks to Singapore’s limited space and a growing population, it’s government has long since employed a public housing program which forces integration. People have to get along with each other. About 85% of Singaporeans today live in public housing estates . These estates, managed by the government, have an enforced ethnic quota. Maximum proportions are set for the residents from various ethnic groups in these blocks of apartments. This helps to “prevent the formation of racial enclaves and promotes ethnic integration,” this according to the government’s website. Sales of a new or resale apartment are not approved to a buyer from a particular ethnic group if it would lead to that group’s limit being exceeded.

Regardless of what we in the West, the U.S. in particular, might think about Singapore’s forced integration program, it has leveled the playing field for its diverse citizenry. People do not have the freedom to discriminate, not openly anyway.

So, comparing the state of efforts to combat discrimination in these two very different countries, what can we learn?

  1. Societies/organizations are stronger and more productive when citizens put aside their racial, ethnic, homophobic (what have you) prejudices.
  2. People will not willingly forsake the prejudicial feelings they have, the feelings and attitudes that they have developed from early childhood on.
  3. No matter what initiatives societies’ leaderships employ to ensure equity among its’ citizens, progress requires long-term commitment and resolve to counter socially-conservative measures to prevent change.
  4. Learning to be bigoted or not to be bigoted in whatever way must begin at an early age. Parents wanting their children to grow up without prejudicial attitudes against people of other races/ethnicities, beliefs or life-styles must take proactive measures.

If we, as a people – the whole of humanity which inhabits this earth, regardless of nationality, faith or ethnic group, are ever to know lasting peace and equity in prosperity, we must come together. We must persevere to combat the forces of evil within us so that the next generation might not just live better — but be better.

 Please feel free to comment/express your opinions regarding this post. I would enjoy reading and responding to them in open dialogue.
Published in: on September 13, 2016 at 11:23 am  Comments (1)  

Life Is Like a River

Life is an adventure. It’s like we are each in a canoe afloat on a swiftly moving river. The river is uniquely our own, one that no one else has ever navigated before.

river

We can paddle like hell sometimes, but our canoe is still going to go downstream, pretty much where it wants to go. Occasionally the river forks and, if we are prepared for it, we can choose to go right or left. Sometimes there are clues to help us choose which fork to take — advice from someone more experienced at navigating their own river perhaps. Sometimes we can see far enough ahead to know which way is more challenging. Maybe we welcome the challenge. Maybe we don’t. The more challenging way, we might suspect, will be the most rewarding way. No risk – no reward. Instinctively we know that.

There are stretches of river where the current is more calm. This is where we have time to make the best decisions — this is where we have time to plan ahead, to rest and prepare ourselves for the next rapid. We can put-in on either shore. We can pick a wide, grassy place or a more narrow, rocky spot. We can also choose to press on till dark. But, sooner or latter, we all have to rest. Come morning, or maybe a day or two later, we all have to get back in our respective canoes and continue downstream. Life is like that. It doesn’t stop.

Pray that there is no 100 foot waterfall ahead. But we can never know.

Please feel free to post a comment.

Published in: on August 15, 2016 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Worm Poop and God’s Green Earth

”It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised creatures. Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible.”

CHARLES DARWIN, 1881

worm poopOur townhouse backs a golf course. A long par-five is our backyard, and I so enjoy not having to mow it. Giving the golfers a wide-berth, I often use the cart path for morning and evening walks around ours and two adjoining fairways. Circling back to our place, the distance is just over a mile. I walk our dog, Benji, on the golf course too, as do a few other pet owners in our neighborhood, the Enclave at Thorntree. With a poop bag at the ready, I am one of the more responsible pet owners, I am proud to say. I keep our dog on a leash too, except when we play fetch. He’s really good at playing fetch. He knows that a tasty treat is waiting for him each time he returns the tennis ball, so not even an occasional squirrel crossing the fairway to run up a tree distracts him from the game.

 I picked up our little great granddaughter after school the other day and I brought her to our place. My wife, her Oma, was helping her finish her “What-I-Want-to-Be-When-I-Grow-Up” project, so she had work to do after school. But she wasn’t anxious to get started right away.

“Opa, can we play awhile?” she asked after I had parked the car in our garage.

“Yes, honey,” I answered. “What would you like to play?

“Let’s go dig,” she said, not waiting for my answer and grabbing the long-handled plastic play shovel we brought back from fun on the beach at Galveston last summer. While I checked to make sure that there were no golf carts on the fairway, she made a beeline for the closest sand trap behind our house.

She removed her shoes and socks before stepping into the sand. She loves the feel of sand between her toes and she longs to return to the beach.

I cautioned her about digging too deep and getting dirt mixed in with the sand. She was careful not to do so while she made several piles of sand. I supervised while keeping an eye out for any golf carts pulling up adjacent to one of the fairway’s tee boxes. The particular sand trap we were in was a good 350 yards downrange from even the ladies’ tee, so I knew that we’d be safe and have plenty of time to rake smooth the sand piles and fill the holes before any golfers could come into range to threaten us with a hit.

After 10 minutes or so, I handed my little darling a rake, signaling to her that it was time for us to leave. She dutifully raked and smoothed the sand while I picked up her shoes and socks for the walk back to the house.

“Opa,” she asked, “what are these little piles of dirt?”

“Those are worm castings, honey.”

“Worm castings?”

“Yes, honey,” I said. “ Worm poop.

“EEEYOOOOO!” she screamed. “Worm poop!?” After this, she was extremely careful where she chose to step as we walked back to the house.

“Why do they poop, Opa?” she asked.

Recognizing the opportunity for a teaching moment, I said, “All God’s creatures have to poop, honey, and we are oh so very fortunate that worms poop the way they do. Without earthworms, we would not have the fertile soil that we need to grow this pretty grass.”

“Or carrots, or celery, or broccoli either, right Opa?” Pretty perceptive my little girl, wouldn’t you say?

“That’s right, honey. Worm poop is the best natural fertilizer there is. And long before people figured out how to make artificial fertilizers, farmers had been spreading manure on their fields from farm animals like pigs and cows. Some farmers still do. But worms take care of the spreading part all by themselves. In addition, they bore holes through the soil so that air can get in and they do much of their pooping down low where the roots of plants can make best use of the nutrients in their poop?”

“Nutrients?”

“Yes, honey, nutrients. Nutrients are chemicals like phosphorous and nitrogen which are in dead animals and plant matter. These nutrients are easier for living plants to use after these dead things, organic things, have been digested and excreted by earthworms.”

“Excreted?” my granddaughter asked.

“Excreted means being passed out of the body — like when animals go to the bathroom, like Benji does when we walk him out here to do his business. Scientists who know about these kinds of things tell us that nitrogen availability in earthworm poop is five times greater than in soil that has not been first digested by earthworms.”

For those who might want to know more about this process, about how earthworms help to make soil fertile and other ways that they contribute to surface ecosystems, go to http://sciencelearn.org.nz/Science-Stories/Earthworms/Earthworms-role-in-the-ecosystem.

“Opa, you’re the smartest man in the whole world,” my little granddaughter said.

I am so grateful today that geography was my major in college and that I took interesting classes like the geography of soils. Because of that, and my years of teaching geography to freshmen high school students, I had a ready answer to my little darling’s question. And, because of that, she thinks that I’m the smartest man in the whole world.

Life is good.

Thank you, God, for earthworms, and for curious little girls.

Please feel free to leave a comment to this post.

Published in: on April 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Reconciling the Head with the Heart ~ The Resurrection Story

I sat there on the floor thinking about all that my grandma had told me. I thought of many more questions to ask, but I decided that it would be best just to think about them. I could tell that my grandma wasn’t comfortable answering my questions.

resurrection-1Our Sunday School class chose Reverend Mike Slaughter’s book, “Renegade Gospel, The Rebel Jesus” for our Lenten Season study guide this year. Wow! It offered plenty of fodder for discussion and some in the class even took exception with some of the things he wrote about. My biggest issue and greatest revelation came, not during the last chapter, titled Resurrection, but afterwards.

Beginning to speak at the end of the lesson that Sunday morning, I felt my wife’s elbow in my ribs, so I kept quiet. But I’ve been contemplating the topic ever since for this, the final post in my Lenten Season series. Cutting to the chase – I struggle with the whole idea of a physical resurrection.

A little background here for those of you who do not know me well or personally: I grew up in the shadow of the Mormon Temple. That’s a metaphor, folks; I wasn’t literally in the temple’s shadow the whole time I grew up. I was just raised in an extended family culture of Mormonism. And so, Mormon theology had a profound impact on me. By the time I was twelve or thirteen years old, I rejected it totally, and with it the whole idea of Christianity. Reason crowded out what little faith there was. Owing to the influence and example of many loving people in my life since then, however, I have come to embrace the teachings of Christ Jesus and to accept Him as my Lord and Savior, but in the Methodist faith tradition, not the Mormon. I am comfortable as a Methodist because our discipline does not require me to accept the whole of Scripture as inerrant.

I remember asking my dear little old great grandmother, a third generation descendant of the original Mormon pioneers moving into the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah, this question: “What happens to us after we die?”

I was playing on her kitchen floor at the time with the family’s cat, teasing it with an empty sewing thread spool tied to a string. My memory of this is quite vivid. She said, “One day, long after we have been buried, we will all be made young, healthy and whole again – those of us who keep the commandments.”

“Will everybody be made whole,” grandma?”

“No, not everybody,” she said, “only those who accept the gospel (meaning the gospel according to the Book of Mormon).”

“Will the Gentiles (understood by Mormons to be unbelievers, including those who believe differently about God – Catholics, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses and all those Protestant people) be made whole?” I asked.

“No, dear,” she said. “All those people who die without accepting the gospel will be given a second chance when in Purgatory after somebody is baptized for them. That’s why we Mormons do genealogy and ‘Temple Work’ so that we can be forever with all of our ancestors.”

“So… how does God make everybody whole again, people like Uncle Seth (Uncle Seth had lost an arm in a farming accident)?”

“I don’t know, honey.”

I sat there on the floor thinking about all that my grandma had told me. I thought of many more questions to ask, but I decided that it would be best just to think about them. I could tell that my grandma wasn’t comfortable answering my questions.

To this day, I recite the Apostles Creed with tongue-in-cheek when saying the last sentence, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”  It’s that part about the resurrection of the body that my mind quibbles with – It’s not a trivial matter to me.

According to Reverend Slaughter, and much of the New Testament, we must believe in resurrection, not just Christ’s resurrection on that first Easter Morning, but the eventual resurrection of all believers. Just goggle “what does the bible say about resurrection.” See what you get.

1 Corinthians 15:12-32 reads: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you can say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised…”

The Reverend Slaughter, in his book, claims that we have historical proof of Christ’s resurrection because the Apostle Paul (not one of the twelve) wrote his epistles during and about the year 56 AD, according to Biblical scholars. So many among these more than 500 who witnessed the resurrected Christ were still alive. But who says that more than 500 witnessed the resurrected Christ? Why, the Apostle Paul did, in 1 Corinthians 15:6. “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”

This is a logical do-loop and, at best, only second or third-hand evidence. But Paul, you say, himself encountered the risen Christ according to the book of Acts, chapter 9, verses 3 through 9: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.  Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”

Okay, you say, there you go; Paul’s personal experience is corroborated in Scripture. But who wrote Acts? Tradition from the earliest days of Christianity holds that Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul, wrote both Acts and the Gospel according to Luke (see Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11).

Collusion? Sure sounds like it to me – It’s certainly not corroborated historical proof as the Reverend Slaughter purports.

I recently shared these and other thoughts about Biblical conflicts with scientific evidence and with recorded secular history with a good Christian friend of mine. When I did, he said, “It sounds like you want the Bible to be wrong.”

“Not at all,” I said. “But I don’t consider the Bible to be a True book. I consider it to be a Truth book.

According to Biblical scholars, Gospel writers like Luke didn’t know Jesus personally. None of them were eye witnesses. They did not follow Him around with pens and papyrus recording everything he said and did. Instead, they came to believe in Jesus by listening to others talk about Him. So, when they wrote down what they had come to believe, they used the oral stories that they had heard.

Looking at the Gospels it’s easy to see that Luke heard stories that Mark, Matthew and John did not, stories like The Good Samaritan for example. Similarly, Matthew and Luke heard stories that Mark did not. The Sermon on the Mount for example, in Matthew, becomes The Sermon on the Plain in Luke. We also see that even when they tell the same story, the details are sometimes different. So, it’s the message that matters rather than the details.

According to The Bible Doctor, “The Gospels were not intended to be biographies or historical reports. Each of the Gospels was written to do just one thing: to help people come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament, God in human form.

When we read the Gospels we should look for truths, but not the kind of truths scientists or lawyers look for. We should look for truths about life, about Jesus, about being human, about life in God’s time. This kind of truth is held in the message of the story, not in the details. When we read the Gospels we should not ask what is true. We should ask, ‘What does it mean?’”

The Bible is full of metaphors. The parables themselves are allegories — stories told to convey truths about the Kingdom of God and the nature of mankind – stories filled with metaphors. Biblical scholars agree that the whole book of Job is a masterfully written allegory, it too filled with metaphors. So, could the concept and Biblical stories of Christ’s physical resurrection also be allegories? I think, yes, they could be.

To convince Jews and later, Gentiles, in the early years after the crucifixion that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the living Son of God, The First Council of Nicaea had to choose Gospels that included the resurrection story along with the virgin birth story and other aspects of prophesy written long before. Otherwise, those who were familiar with the prophesies would never accept Him. Then too, promises of physical resurrection and eternal life for believers had, and continue to have, great appeal. Gospels which did not include these stories and testify to the divinity of Christ were rejected by the council. But I don’t need miracles to believe in Christ’s teachings as other, more fundamental Christians do. Neither do I need them to believe in the purpose of His sacrifice and the hope for salvation. To me, it’s all intrinsically true.

I’ve come a long way since that day on my great grandmother’s kitchen floor. For more on my profession of faith, see A Discipleship Testimonial ~ My Conversion by Profession of Faith.

I rather like this quote by Reverend William A. Kolb posted to the website, explorefaith.org: “Nowadays (forty years later) I would say that I am of two minds. One, which is my ‘worldly, common-sense’ way of thinking, tells me that the resurrection might be metaphorical, but if it is, that does not make me believe in Jesus any less, nor in him as the divine model for living and dying, any less.

But there is another part of me that continues to believe in the resurrection literally. And I would say that that is the part of me to which Jesus referred when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ God has put it into my heart to believe in things that neither I nor the world can prove with our mind, but which we believe with our heart, and usually with all our heart.

Do you have to believe this to ‘be a Christian?’ I would say not. I would say that what it takes to ‘be a Christian’ is to want to be a Christian. The more you believe and the more you practice the things that Jesus taught, the stronger a Christian you will be.”

After a discussion about these things over lunch, that good Christian friend I mentioned earlier, the one who said it sounded like I want the Bible to be wrong, said, “Well, at least God has something to work with in you.” That pleased me a great deal.

Whether there truly was an empty tomb and a physical resurrection – whether or not a physical resurrection awaits those of us who believe, I do believe… more in my heart than in my head. But I do believe, and I will be celebrating Easter again this year.

Please feel free to comment on this post, whether you can understand and accept what I choose to believe about resurrection. Even if you vehemently disagree, I would love to dialogue on the subject.

The Creation Story Revisited ~ Heresy? Perhaps

The Creator of mankind is like the farmer who, after claiming and clearing a suitable plot of ground, decides to grow a garden. He prepares the earth, removing stumps and rocks, breaking up the hard ground and adding fertilizer. Then He plants wild seeds – some of one kind and some of another because this is all that He has to start with.

HarvestOpa?” my little darling asked.

“Yes, dear.”

“Are there aliens?”

“Do you mean like aliens from outer space?”

“Yes.” What other kind are there?

“Well,” I said, “an alien is anything or anybody in our midst that either doesn’t belong or is just visiting. The Bible refers to these aliens as sojourners.”

“I’m only asking about the space kind.”

“Oh, I see,” I began. “Well, I don’t rightly know, honey. I’ve never met one, not to my knowledge anyway. Nobody does know for sure, although lots of people have strong beliefs about it, one way or the other. But if there aren’t others out there, it sure would be a big waste of a lot of room now wouldn’t it?”

My little darling giggled.

“The Bible doesn’t come right out and say that aliens exist, but it does talk about Heavenly Hosts and another human-like species that supposedly inhabited the earth when God created humans and gave us domination over the earth. This other species, the Nephilim, were giants, or so the Bible says. They were on the earth in those days. Maybe they got back into their spaceships and left after God favored us over them.

Later on in the Bible, in the book of Ezekiel, it says, ‘As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness…’”

“Gee, then there really are aliens.”

“Maybe”, I said. “But maybe the prophet Ezekiel was just talking about a dream vision that he had had.

“So, did God make us, people like we are today, and what about the dinosaurs? “

“Well, honey, science has discovered a lot about dinosaurs in recent years. Physical evidence tells us that they lived a long, long time before human beings ever did. But the Bible doesn’t mention them at all. It does talk about leviathans which we understand are whales. Things called behemoths are talked about in one book of the Bible, the book of Job. But biblical scholars think that this is making reference to huge mythological creatures or maybe to elephants, hippopotami, rhinoceroses or crocodiles rather than dinosaurs. When the Bible was written, I don’t think people had any idea about how old the earth really is or anything at all about dinosaurs.  As for people being created just like we are today, yes, according to the Bible, we were. But, again, when the Bible was written, I don’t think people knew. To my way of thinking, the creation story in the Bible isn’t so much about how God made people, but why He made people.”

“Why did He make us, Opa?”

“I’m just guessing here, honey,” I said, “But from what I have read in the Bible, God is love and He created us to love and have us to love Him back.

Given what science has learned in the last couple of hundred years about the earth and life on it, here’s how I would describe the creation story. It’s the way I think Jesus would have explained it to His disciples had your question been asked by them: The Creator of mankind is like the farmer who, after claiming and clearing a suitable plot of ground, decides to grow a garden. He prepares the earth, removing stumps and rocks, breaking up the hard ground and adding fertilizer. Then He plants wild seeds – some of one kind and some of another because this is all that He has to start with. Next, he waters the seeds and waits for them to sprout. He removes the weeds that grow up faster than His tender new plants, weeds that would choke out the plants.

All of what grows from the seeds that He plants do not produce fruit or usable grains. So He destroys the useless plants and decides which of the fruitful plants he likes best. From these, he keeps back some of the best seeds for the next season’s planting. And the Farmer is pleased with His harvest.

Over the many years that follow, the best of the best seeds produce plants that cross-pollinate.  So, the following year some of the plants improve. The Farmer is pleased with His harvest and continues the process of choosing the best seeds for the next season’s planting. Some years there is disease or pestilence which kills off some of the plants. But some plants always survive and these pass on resistance through their seeds to the next generation of plants. And the Farmer is pleased with His harvest.

In time, the Farmer plants seeds in newly claimed and prepared fields. In these fields, however, the soil is different. The climate where these fields are located is different too; there is more or less rain and more or less sunshine. So the seeds produce differently and the plants evolve – not better or worse, necessarily, but appropriately for the conditions where they grow. And the Farmer is pleased with His harvest.

Please feel free to comment on this posting. I would enjoy dialoguing on this subject.

Published in: on March 20, 2015 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Yes, I Believe ~ But Why?

Christ’s teachings alone are enough for me. Hope in Him whose teachings inspire, sustains me in times of peril. When I have no answers and can find none, God is there.

newmeNuance is something that challenges understanding, especially outside of the scientific community. Scientists, engineers and statisticians strive to communicate with precision. People of faith — not so much. This is not to suggest that scientists, engineers and statisticians cannot also be people of faith. But the same word or phrase can mean different things to different people, even when used in the same way. Take the word, “faith,” for example.

When a fellow believer spoke recently about growing in faith, I asked him what he meant. “Do you mean growing more certain of what you believe discounting reason, or do you mean growing in understanding of what it means to be a believer and practicing what it is that you do believe?”

Faith is a word that has many different meanings. Among them are: confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof; belief in God or in the doctrines or teaching of religion; the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, a promise, or an engagement as in keeping the faith.

A scientist would probably shy away from using the word, faith. But if he did use it, he would likely mean it in the sense of having high confidence or trust in something. Religious persons are not so shy and use the word quite often. When they do, they most often mean it as a synonym for belief, the noun form, and to believe, the verb form, meaning to accept the doctrines and teachings of their particular faith persuasions.

When I was young and televisions where first becoming commonplace, there was a program one night a week called The Jane Froman Show. Others of my generation might remember Ms. Froman best for the movie of her life story, “With A Song in My Heart,” I do remember the movie, but I do not remember her TV show. Perhaps this is because ours was one of the last households on our block to have a TV. Anyway, Ms. Froman commissioned the writing of a special song, to inspire hope and faith to Americans because she was troubled by the outbreak of war in Korea so soon after the end of World War II. The song, “I Believe,” became the first hit song ever introduced on TV and was recorded by many others in addition to Ms. Froman. It became both a popular and religious standard of the day. Frank Sinatra  recorded it. So did Perry Como, Any Williams, Barbara Streisand and Elvis Presley. Frankie Laine‘s version of it spent eighteen non-consecutive weeks at the top of the UK Singles Chart. The most successful version of the song in America, Laine’s recording reached #2 on the charts for three straight weeks.

I have long loved this song. I loved it when I was young and I love it now. When I began this missive, the lyrics came hauntingly back to me. But as much and as long as I have loved it, it has done nothing to increase my faith. Neither has it done anything to help explain my lack of faith. Yes, I believe, but not because of the many times I have heard a newborn baby cry. The miracle of new life is awesome to behold, especially when it is a child of your own. But there is no empirical evidence that even suggests that every drop of rain produces a flower. And we all know people who have gone astray with no one coming to show them the way.

So, why do people believe? More to the point, why do I believe?

“Scholars in the fields of cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive anthropology, artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience, neurobiology, zoology, and ethology are all seeking to explain how human minds acquire, generate, and transmit religious memes by means of ordinary cognitive capacities.”

I borrowed the above words from Wikipedia, folks. I don’t even rightly know the difference between one of these disciplines and the next. But I do know that scientific theories can do nothing to ease the anxieties that a belief in something greater than oneself can comfort.

Some people point to the complexity of our planet and say that this suggests a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today. They say that the universe and everything in it had a beginning and that the Big Bang just doesn’t make sense. They say that the universe operates by uniform laws of nature and ask, if not God, then why? But these so-called proofs are not proofs. They are just unanswered questions – questions that our limited minds may never be able to answer. My answer, notwithstanding all of my doubts, notwithstanding all the contradictions between science, in which I have considerable confidence, and Scripture, itself being filled with errors and contradictions, is that I am a better person professing Christ as my Lord and striving to live according to His teachings. I am a better person being in fellowship with others striving to do the same. Christ’s teachings alone are enough for me. Hope in Him whose teachings inspire, sustains me in times of peril. When I have no answers and can find none, God is there.

The great mind of modern times, Professor Stephen Hawking, author of the best selling book, “A Brief History of Time,” has said that heaven and belief in an afterlife are fairytales for people who are afraid of the dark. Yes, that may be true. But, while fairytales are not true, in the telling of them great truths are often found. And I am one of those mortals who does fear the dark — not so much for myself but for those whom I love. And so, I believe. I chose to believe because there is comfort in the belief. There is no comfort in unbelief.

Please feel free to post a comment. I would enjoy dialogue on this subject.

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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In the Spirit of Equity ~ For on Earth There Is No Equality

I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies, especially those that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

scales of justice“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’”

~ Mark 12:28-31

Neighbor, you ask? Of whom was Jesus speaking?

Surely you recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. So, would not the unemployed father across town be your neighbor? How about the woman taking care of your children so that you can go to work? How about the part time employees of the largest, most successful retail sales corporation in the world?

Among those of us who know Him, can there be any doubt about how God wants us to treat these neighbors? Does He not want us to treat them fairly and impartially — equitably – not withholding or denying them a living wage? Yes. Even so, this is a tall order. It’s the best we could possibly do because, as we all know, on earth there is no equality.

I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” Notwithstanding the great and inspiring words in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” there is no equality. God has not given to each of us in “equal” measures those things that can be measured in human terms. Some of us are born in the bosom of advantage and luxury. Others are born and reared in poverty and perpetual discouragement. No, there is no equality. Yet God commands us to love one another, whether rich or poor — to treat others, our neighbors, with equity.

What does equity look like? I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. It looks like a society in which children don’t go hungry, where they all go to schools where loving teachers are encouraged with enough time and compensation to be the best teachers they can possibly be – schools where vaccinations and school lunches are freely provided. It looks like a society in which a day’s pay, for those willing to work, is at least sufficient to subsist on, to pay for a day’s worth of shelter, food, clothing and medical care. That’s how it seemed to be when I was growing up, which may have been illusionary I admit. But it surely is not this way nowadays, not for everyone.

No, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies , especially economies that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

After retiring from a career in the military, I was hired by a firm providing engineering and programmatic support for military materiel procurement programs. Launched into this follow-on career by my successful involvement in operational test and evaluation for the U.S. Army, it wasn’t long before I was made a branch chief in one of the firm’s many departments. Test and Evaluation was my specialty and I was made a manager because I attracted customers who were willing to pay handsomely for my help. I could have been an ineffective manager, but that had nothing to do with my promotion. It was my expertise in the discipline that got me promoted.

I began to build my team, hiring first a young man who a customer of mine, a former co-worker, wanted to help. He wanted to help not because he was particularly good at anything, but because he was a friend. It soon became evident that he would not be contributing much to the collective effort. But he was now mine to groom and to supervise, which added to my workload. Next, I looked for a new hire that could provide help with human factors engineering. With this hire, I was quite fortunate; the man I hired did excellent work and could write rings around my first hire. My third hire would have been a highly qualified aerodynamics engineer, someone who could serve as my deputy. But, owing to contract constraints and externalities, my branch never quite grew sufficient to justify this third hire. I did interview some candidates though. One was particularly impressive.

She was a graduate of the Navy’s Post Graduate Engineering School and a C-141 pilot. She, a major in the Air Force, had worked in test and evaluation and in the program management office for the new C-17 cargo airplane. Her resume was on the top of my pile of candidates’ resumes when my boss called me in to inquire about my search for a deputy manager. “Who’s your first choice?” he asked.

When I told him, he rolled his eyes then said, “Yeah, I noticed her when she came through for the interview with you. Nice Stems?”

“Sir? Nice stems?” I asked.

“Legs,” he said. “She has nice legs.”

“Yes, she does. But what has that got to do with anything?”

“That has everything to do with whether we can offer her the position.”

“Why is that?” I asked naively.

“For one thing, this is a business for men. Most of your prospective customers would have no confidence in her ability to do the job, even if she could leap higher than all her male competition. Next, were we to hire her and pour time and effort getting her up to speed in this male dominated culture of ours, within two or three years, she’d be engaged and or pregnant. Her new husband, likely another service member still on active duty, would be reassigned to Timbuktu and she’d be gone. No, not her. Who’s your second choice?”

Yeah. I get it. I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.”

What does the Bible say about equity?

In Mattew 20:1-15 we read: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first. And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’”

“And whatever is right I will give you…”

Yes, I understand that, in this parable, Jesus was talking about salvation, and the master of the house represents God. He was talking about how the Father will reward even those who come to Him in the eleventh hour. But it also illustrates how a godly employer, seeing his laborers’ needs, should satisfy them according to his ability to do so.

Yes, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” But why can’t we at least make better efforts towards equity?

What a progressive idea! Yeah, but it’s a Christian idea too. Is it not?

Please feel free to leave a comment. I would enjoy dialoguing on this subject.

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment